Labour

The combined effect of structural adjustment programmes, increased capital mobility and the globalisation of production has resulted in mass job losses and precarious employment in many countries over the past 30 years. Attacks on social welfare, healthcare and education, as well as privatisations, high unemployment and strong arm tactics against trade union organising, have rolled back many of the hard-won fruits of struggle. In the name of global competitiveness, workers are set against each other in a race to the bottom which only the bosses can win.

International free trade and investment agreements are an important vehicle for the transfer of power from labour to capital. As transnational corporations are granted ever greater rights to trade and invest across the global economy, workers are increasingly cast as commodities in global value chains over which they have no control. The transnational capitalist elites that sit on top of these global networks of production can freely switch suppliers in search of lower labour costs or higher productivity, leaving behind a social devastation from which successive generations are often unable to recover.

The new generation of twenty-first century FTAs are now seeking to intensify this imbalance still further by removing the social standards and market regulations that have traditionally served to limit the power of transnational capital. The elimination of these regulatory ‘barriers’ to trade forms a central pillar of the most recent wave of FTAs, through which transnational corporations will be freed from any restrictions which might have allowed labour to participate in the benefits of trade or investment. Workers will create the wealth, and corporate elites will accumulate it.

One strategy previously advocated by trade unions in the global North was to press for social chapters in FTAs as a means of mitigating the worst effects of market liberalisation. This strategy is now widely recognised as ineffective, since such measures could never compensate for the devastation caused by bringing domestic enterprises into unequal competition with transnational corporations. The record of deindustrialisation and mass unemployment in the wake of trade liberalisations imposed on the peoples of Africa and Latin America shows just how high a price workers have paid for such policies. The negative experiences of US, Canadian and Mexican workers as a result of NAFTA are a reminder that workers in richer countries are also vulnerable.

Trade unions in the global South have long played an important role in mass movements of resistance to free trade and investment agreements. In Korea, many thousands of KCTU members participated in national mobilisations against both the US-Korea and EU-Korea FTAs. Workers in Central America actively opposed CAFTA, such as those from the state power and telecommunications sector in Costa Rica and education workers in Guatemala. Now Northern trade unions are joining these movements of resistance: all major European trade union federations have come out against CETA and TTIP, for example, just as the AFL-CIO called for a halt to the TPP negotiations for fear of the impact on US workers. The global union federation PSI has also spoken out against service liberalisation agreements such as TiSA, which threaten to undermine public services and public sector jobs alike.

Migrant workers’ associations have also formed part of the movement against FTAs. Free trade and investment agreements have resulted in social dislocations that have forced people from their farms, jobs, families and communities into exploitation as migrant workers, either internally within their own states or in other countries. At the same time, the growing number of FTAs that include provisions on temporary labour mobility have been condemned for endangering workers still further, driving people to migrate while still denying them basic rights in countries where their presence is highly precarious and often used by employers to undermine existing labour standards still further. Only when workers are no longer relegated to the status of commodities serving the economic strategies of capitalist elites can there be any hope of their liberation from such exploitation.

Contributed by War on Want

last update: December 2015


    Articles

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  • 8-Nov-2013 Inclusion of labour norms on the rise in FTAs: ILO study
    As the world moves into a regime where free trade agreements (FTAs) govern 5.5 per cent of global trade compared with 0.6 per cent in 1995, a new ILO report finds a marked rise in inclusion of labour provisions in bilateral and regional pacts.
  • 23-Aug-2013 WNU Honduras: US-Korean maquila accused of CAFTA labor violations
    Some 30 inspectors from the Honduran Labor Ministry visited the Kyungshin-Lear Honduras Electrical Distribution Systems auto parts assembly plant iafter local media reported that some employees had to wear diapers at work because of restrictions on their bathroom breaks.
  • 14-Aug-2013 Pacific Standard How the Obama Administration is hurting American workers
    Leading US companies, the ones that shape government policy, are now able to make healthy profits without spending on domestic investment, leading to policies like FTAs that do not improve living and working conditions in the US
  • 22-Mar-2013 CGT Union organizations from Africa, America, Asia and Europe meet in Paris
    The Confederación General del Trabajo (Spain), the Union Syndicale Solidaires (France) and the Central Sindical e Popular Conlutas (Brazil) have extended an international invitation to all organizations that consider themselves part of the combative trade union movement and see the need for social transformation to an international trade union meeting to be held in Paris from 22 to 24 March in order to work towards the coordination of alternative trade-unionism on an international level
  • 3-Jul-2012 Eurotribune “Free trade agreements are, to some extent, an expression of neo-colonialism”
    Interview with Lourdes Castro, chief officer of Grupo SUR and representative of Alop, Aprodev, Cifca and Oidhaco.
  • 3-Jul-2012 Eurotribune “Los acuerdos de libre comercio son, de alguna manera, un nuevo colonialismo”
    Entrevista Lourdes Castro, responsable oficina del Grupo SUR y representante de Alop, Aprodev,Cifca y Oidhaco.
  • 25-Apr-2012 In These Times Labor action and inaction in Colombia free trade deal
    As the media swarmed over the scandal surrounding the Secret Service’s alleged carousing with prostitutes in Colombia, another questionable financial transaction slipped quietly through the backdoor of hemispheric diplomacy.
  • 1-Apr-2012 AFL-CIO Joins Honduran Unions in Petitioning US Labor Department
    This week the AFL-CIO joined the main Honduran trade unions to file a petition with the United States Department of Labor’s Public Office of Trade & Labor Affairs (OTLA) concerning the failure of the government of Honduras to effectively enforce its labor laws and comply with its commitments under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).
  • 7-Mar-2012 Programa de las Américas El Desplazamiento, un Producto de las Reformas de Libre Mercado
    Este artículo es la primera de una serie de tres partes que analizan las causas del fenómeno del trabajo migrante y los mecanismos que lo originan, y ofrecen propuestas para transformarlo en un sistema más justo y equitativo.
  • 2-Mar-2012 Global Post ’Meet the new boss’: The rise of Colombia’s labor co-ops
    According to labor-rights activists as well as a recent US State department report, many Colombian co-ops function as glorified temp agencies providing companies with cheap and docile non-union workers.
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